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Wild Soundscapes

Do you remember as a child learning the consequences of slamming your car door when you got out at 5am on a hunting trip with a parent. The response from your hunting party with an angry look and silent fist-shaking? As you aged, did you start to appreciate wild soundscapes, full of a dawn chorus or an elk bugling without the roar of a car nearby or an airplane overhead?

Wild Livelihoods has a soundscape monitoring project whereby ordinary people can record the sounds of wild places and share information with others. We use acoustic devices to record soundscapes and monitor the presence of different animals, including human-made sounds. In addition, we seek to protect the wild soundscapes that bring visitors to our area and get away from the roar of the city. Sign-up to join one of our monitoring groups and to share your desire for wild places.

Below is an example soundscape from a remote location in the Greater Yellowstone. More precisely, it is a selection of actual sounds from a four month period of recording in one location, recording 24x7. These sounds are represented in a "spectrogram", which is a way of "graphically visualizing sounds" and are an important technology in the modern world, from creating speech recognition on your phone to editing music. The colors represent the pitch and loudness of each of the sounds, and the white bar (while the video is playing) represents which sound you are hearing at that point in time.

Do you know which animals are making which sounds?

One of the many things you can do with acoustic recorders is chronicle which animal species are occupying an area. Below is a word cloud of birds that vocalized near one recorder in the Greater Yellowstone running for five months in 2023. The audio files take up about one terrabyte of space on a hard-drive which makes it impractical for humans to listen to all of the sounds; instead we used BirdNET, artificial intelligence software that classifies the sounds according to species. In the below image, you'll see 100 of the birds (out of 193) that BirdNET identified from our recordings. The larger font size indicates those birds that were most active at the location throughout the summer. BirdNET, which was programmed to only identify species that it was 90% confident of, did not get everything correct: common loons were actually wolves and it's doubtful that a Lapland longspur showed up. Caveat aside, AI is a valuable tool for doing low-cost surveys of animal presence in an area. Click on the play button to play all 100 recordings of those birds.

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Below is an image of an audio spectrogram (a graphical representation of sound pitch, loudness and duration) taken during a twenty-four hour period deep in the back country of the Greater Yellowstone in 2023. Each row represents one hour of audio. And there are 24 rows designating the entire day of recording. On the top row (which starts at 3am) there is a green circle that highlights a series of elk bugles and a wolf howling -- two of the iconic sounds of wild places. Circled in yellow are the sounds of airplanes. 32 plane flights in one day. Each airplane noise lasts an average of 2 minutes, and there are on average 32 a day north of Yellowstone. Do the math: the equivalent of a one full hour of airplane noise a day is already what we experience here on a daily basis. 

Feel free to play and download (for personal use) any of the sounds from this recording unit below.


Image Courtesy of Jeff Reed (Permission to re-use required)

Have you observed an increase in overflights during each summer? This phenomenon extends beyond Yellowstone and affects numerous National Parks nationwide. While Yellowstone currently lacks an Air Tour Management Program, many parks have such programs enforced by the FAA. Over the past 4 or 5 years, the need for oversight in Yellowstone has become increasingly evident. If you're curious about the process, there's a last-minute notice for a congressional hearing discussing this matter below.

Limiting Access and Damaging Gateway Economies: Examining the National Parks Air Tour Management Program

In spite of the clever title, the special interest group behind this lobbying effort of the federal government has never come and talked to our actual local gateway business coalition to discuss what we think about private plane tours in the national park we live next to.

The lack of Air Tour Management Plans has allowed commercial operators to exploit National Parks, often causing harm to the natural soundscape, disrupting the experience for park visitors and wildlife, and encroaching upon Native American historical and sacred sites. These operators have profited from the 23-year delay in implementing the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which, ironically, should be the subject of investigation due to the waste of taxpayer money resulting from non-compliance with the law. The completion of ATMPs marks the end of this unchecked practice, much to the dissatisfaction of aircraft lobbyists. None of us "hate" aircraft...some of us have our pilot's license, but as a gateway community we do expect to have a say about increased noise pollution in our area.

Let Montana's Representative Matt Rosendale (who sits on the committee listening to this proposal) know if you prefer the sound of elk bugling to private helicopter and plane operations in the Greater Yellowstone. Contact him at: . And check out for some interesting background.

The Economic Risk of Poor Wildlife Management

As visitors to southwestern Montana start to voice their opinion regarding how Montana wants to manage wildlife (including carnivores), they are making it clear as to if they want to spend their money here. ​Here are a few economic highlights with respect to recreational tourism in our area (for more data, see here) and the impact that wild places have on it.

  • One and only year-round driving entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

  • 22% of all labor income fueled by travel, tourism and recreation.

  • Park County alone generates roughly $500,000,000 in tourism revenue annually. To put that in perspective, all of Park County's annual agricultural revenue runs at about $34,000,000 ($24m in livestock and $10m in crops). Based on the 2021 estimated predation losses (of all kinds), less than .075 percent of that revenue was lost to predation.

  • Lodging/accommodation wages and revenue are the largest economic category in our region. Lodging tax revenue for Park County, driven in large part to Yellowstone National Park visitation, in 2021 generated almost $3,400,000 for Montana's general fund, various heritage programs and recreational use programs, including FWP. 

  • Small business proprietors (or self-employment) represents a significant portion of all employment in Park County, accounting for 39% of all jobs in 2014.  This has grown over the last decade from about one-third of all jobs before 2000 and this growth has been entirely among non-farm proprietors.  Statewide in Montana proprietors accounted for 27% of all jobs in 2014, up only slightly from 26% in 2000. 

  • A 2017 survey of non-resident tourists visiting Montana shows the time spent on various activities ranked as:

    • 56% Scenic driving

    • 36% Day hiking

    • 34% Wildlife watching

    • 29% Nature photography

    • 26% Camping

    • 24% Recreational shopping

    • 19% Visiting other historical sites

    • 17% Visiting local brewery

    • 12% Visiting museums

    • 12% Visiting Lewis & Clark sites

    • 9% Fishing / Fly Fishing

  • As the rate of tourism goes up or down, which business/retail categories categories are impacted the most (ranked in descending order according to the State Department of Commerce expenditure categories):

    • Gasoline Outlets (e.g. Town Pump)

    • Restaurant & Bars

    • Hotel & Motel

    • Outfitter & Guides

    • Retail Sales

    • Grocery Stores

    • Auto Rentals

    • Rental Lodging

    • Campground & RV Parks

    • Vehicle Repairs

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